When I wrote my first novel, What Zombies Fear (Amazon, Barnes and Noble), I never expected anyone to read it. I was the administrator of a massive zombie preparedness website, and many of the regulars there asked me about my plan for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. I wrote out a long, detailed post about my priorities, my “alpha site” (my first choice for a place to survive the apocalypse) and how I would get from my house in York, Pennsylvania to my mother’s bed and breakfast (my alpha site) in central Virginia.
A couple of months later, a guy posted on my message board about how he’d written a zombie book that was going to be published by Random House, and included a sample of the book. I can’t remember the guy’s name, but the story was awful. At the time, I’d read every single zombie book I could find on Amazon, and this was by far, the worst zombie story I’d ever read. But, it was on my website, and I couldn’t be a complete jerk. So I wrote a detailed, well thought-out critique, including some things I thought he did well, some things I thought he could improve, and a few things he should stay away from.
The next day, I received a short response from the author: “F. U. I bet you think you could do better.” (He did not abbreviate…)
Now, I’m not a guy that shies away from a challenge, especially one so eloquently tendered. I’d tried the polite, professional approach, which clearly didn’t work, so I offered my own short response.
“I certainly couldn’t do any worse. Give me two days.”
Over the next two days, I wrote, almost non-stop. I told the story from first person, as if the apocalypse was happening to me. It ended up about 8000 words, more than I’d ever written before. It followed a (barely) fictionalized version of myself, who worked as a middle manager for a software company, on his trek to get to his three and a half year old son and wife to safety.
With a huge amount of trepidation, I posted my short story on the website, and waited. I was biting my nails with anticipation when the first reply came in.
“Wow. What happened next?”
And then the second.
“This is really good. I want more!”
So I wrote more. Every night when I got home from work, after my son went to bed, I wrote a little. In those days, it was a struggle, and I counted it a successful day if I got 250 words down on paper. In what seemed like no time, I had a over a hundred thousand words, a dedicated blog, and over 1000 followers, waiting for my twice-a-week updates to Victor Tookes’ story.
Then someone said, “You should publish this.”
I read all about self-publishing, and decided to give it a shot. What could it hurt? I was giving the book away for free on my blog, I might as well try it. I remember having a conversation with my brother where I said, “If 10 people buy it, can I call myself an author?”
So, I took all the blog posts, ran a spell check in word, photoshopped myself a cover, and put it on amazon.
That first night I sold 38 copies. And suddenly, I was an author.
I spent the next two years writing during every available second. I quit almost every time-waster in my life and dedicated myself to telling the story of Victor Tookes. The Maxists came next, followed very quickly by The Gathering. They were written as one book, but as the story neared the 200,000 word mark, I realized it was going to be way too massive to publish as one book, so I split it into two.
What Zombies Fear 4: Fracture followed about six months later.
After “Fracture” the writer’s block hit. Originally, I’d planned to end the series after Fracture. But there were still zombies! I can’t end the series when there are still zombies, Victor would never rest until the infection is wiped from his planet.
Sometime during the writing of Fracture, I started marketing. I started doing blog tours, interviews, going to conventions, and doing book signings at all the local book stores. I asked every book store within 50 miles if they’d carry my book. I was having them printed via Createspace, which is a very expensive way to print a book compared to traditionally published books. I sold them to book-stores at my cost, so they could maximize their profits.
My last strategy was give-aways. I went to every Facebook page, blog, and website I could find and offered them free copies of the first book, knowing that if I could get people to read the first one, I could get them to buy the second, third, and fourth.
In the fall of 2013, I published the 5th book, Declaration of War. I’ve build a pretty significant social media following, and I pulled out all the stops for the launch of Declaration of War. I lined everyone I know up. I created the biggest buzz I could. I paid for ads. I ran Bookbub specials, anywhere I could get people talking about my books, I was there.
On release day, and for almost two weeks after, Declaration was in Kindle’s top 10 horror books. Sales of DoW drove new sales to the 1st book in the series, which pulled it up the charts.
Suddenly, I was a best-selling author.
When I published The Gathering, I got my first offer from a publisher. They offered me a deal, that was too bad not to pass up. 7% of amazon sales, 15% of direct sales from their website. 5% of print sales. This is a predatory offer. Amazon pays me 70% as an independent. If my book sells for $4.99, I make 70% of that, roughly $3.50. This scam-publisher was offering me 7% of my $3.50. So, if selling my book for $4.99, they’d make $3.25 and I would make $0.25. Which means, for every book I was selling that day, if I signed with them, I’d have to sell 14, just to break even.
I don’t care who you are, no “small time” publisher is going to increase my sales by 14-fold. Upon further conversation with this “publishing house” (which was more like a publishing cardboard-box) I learned that it was a 1-person operation that had 4 books in it’s catalog. All 4 of the books were written by the guy who ran the publishing “house”.
I politely declined that offer, and several dozen more like it. I posted “Indie and Proud” everywhere. I joined facebook groups for successful independent authors. I joined in with the chants of “Publishers need to get a clue” and “publishers are dying”.
And then I signed a deal with Permuted Press.
The details of the deal are confidential, and I won’t share them here. They are significantly better than any other offer I received. Still, Permuted takes a cut of my money. And it’s a cut I’m willing to pay them for the services they offer. I’m a full time author. I work for myself, which is most people’s dream job. What most people don’t understand is that when you work for yourself, you really work for EVERYONE. I have no paid vacation. I have no sick days.
I work between 40 and 60 hours per week writing. That’s my primary job function. I spend another 20 – 30 hours per week marketing, networking, and building my brand. Another 5 – 10 hours per week on the accounting end of my business.
If you add all that up, sometimes I work 100 hour weeks. Signing a deal with Permuted takes SOME of the marketing hours away. Although, between you and me, I won’t spend less time marketing, I’ll just do other things, which nets an increase in marketing time. Signing a deal actually increased my writing load. Now I have real deadlines that I’m contractually obligated to meet.
Really, I signed the deal for exposure. Permuted Press has access to an audience that I wasn’t able to tap into on my own. Permuted Press lends me some credibility, and takes away some people’s trepidation at paying a few bucks to try out the writing of a relatively unknown author.
The highest paid authors on average are those who have both traditionally published and self published works. (We’re called hybrids in the industry). We tap into the financial benefits of self publishing and the audience/exposure/credibility benefits of being traditionally published.
According to the table at left, in almost every category, “hybrid authors,” those with both traditionally published AND self-published works make the most money.
I don’t do this for the money, but I do need to make a living. I don’t need to make $100,000 per year. Although I wouldn’t turn it down.
If you’d like to check out my work:
- What Zombies Fear 1: A Father’s Quest
- What Zombies Fear 2: The Maxists
- What Zombies Fear 3: The Gathering
- What Zombies Fear 4: Fracture
- What Zombies Fear 5: Declaration of War